Halong Bay vs Lan Ha Bay vs Bai Tu Long Bay

Navigating Vietnam's Bays

While you may already be familiar with the renowned Halong Bay, you might not have heard about the equally stunning Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay. Each of these three bays offers its own unique charm and natural wonders to discover.

However, the diversity doesn’t end there. Within each bay, there is an extensive array of cruises available, ranging from day trips to overnight stays of different durations. With so many choices, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about which one to select.

That’s where our guide comes in. We have broken down the options, providing detailed insights into Halong Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and Lan Ha Bay. By delving into their distinct features, landscapes, and activities, we aim to assist you in making an informed decision about which bay suits your preferences.

Comparing the bays

When it comes to exploring Vietnam’s stunning bays, Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay offer different experiences. In this comparison, we’ll delve into their general features, tourism levels, highlights, and available cruise options to help you make an informed choice for your bay adventure.

1. General comparison

Halong Bay stands out as the largest among the three bays, while Lan Ha Bay is much smaller in comparison. Bai Tu Long Bay, though not as expansive as Halong Bay, still possesses a notable size.

All three bays offer stunning sceneries characterized by magnificent karst formations, lush green islands, and crystal-clear waters.

In terms of accessibility, both Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay utilize Tuan Chau Port, which is conveniently located near Halong City and is the closest port to Hanoi. On the other hand, Lan Ha Bay can also be accessed from Cat Ba Island, adding an alternative route for visitors. Bai Tu Long Bay has its own port in Hon Gai, which is relatively further away from Hanoi compared to Tuan Chau Port.

Halong Bay

Lan Ha Bay

Bay Tu Long Bay

2. Tourism and crowdedness

When it comes to tourism and crowdedness, it is no surprise that Halong Bay, being the most popular, attracts the largest number of visitors and can get quite crowded at times.

Following Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay experiences a moderate level of tourist activity, although it is still less crowded compared to Halong Bay. One of the reasons for this is that visitors to Cat Ba Island often venture to Lan Ha Bay, and some Halong Bay cruises also include a visit to Lan Ha Bay.

Then Bai Tu Long Bay enjoys the most tranquil and serene atmosphere as it receives fewer visitors, making it the least crowded bay among the three. So, if you prefer to avoid large crowds and seek a more peaceful experience, Bai Tu Long Bay may be the ideal choice.

Halong Bay

Lan Ha Bay

Bay Tu Long Bay

4. Highlights and experiences

All three bays, Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay, offer a range of highlights and experiences. They all have fascinating caves to explore, floating farms to visit, and opportunities for water activities like kayaking. Lan Ha Bay stands out for its excellent kayaking experiences, while Halong Bay boasts slightly more impressive caves, although they can get crowded due to its popularity.

Lan Ha Bay can be combined with a visit to Cat Ba Island, providing additional activities such as trekking in the National Park and cycling. While Halong Bay offers a picturesque viewpoint, it can also become crowded at times. Despite these differences, all three bays offer similar activities and sights

Halong Bay

Lan Ha Bay

Bay Tu Long Bay

5. Cruise options

Halong Bay offers the widest range of cruise options due to its popularity as a tourist destination. Halong Bay is closest to Hanoi.

Lan Ha Bay, although slightly less popular, still provides a significant selection of cruises, and some Halong Bay cruises combine visits to both bays. This is also because Lan Ha Bay can be conveniently accessed from Cat Ba Island, making it a convenient starting point for day cruises for people visiting the island.

Bai Tu Long Bay has the least amount of cruise options compared to the other two. It is also the furthest away from Hanoi.

All three bays offer both day trips and overnight cruises to accommodate different itineraries. Regardless of the bay you choose, there are cruise options available for various budgets, ensuring that everyone can find a suitable choice. So whether you’re seeking luxury, mid-range, or budget-friendly experiences, you’ll find suitable cruise options in Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay.

Halong Bay

Lan Ha Bay

Bay Tu Long Bay

What bay you should choose

When choosing between Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay, and Bai Tu Long Bay, it ultimately depends on your personal interests and preferences.

Bai Tu Long Bay – If you seek a relaxed and quiet cruise experience with minimal tourist presence and the opportunity to explore lesser-known sights, Bai Tu Long Bay is an excellent choice.

Lan Ha Bay – For those looking for adventure and additional activities, such as kayaking and the option to visit Cat Ba Island for trekking and cycling, Lan Ha Bay offers an exciting experience.

Halong Bay – While we generally do not recommend Halong Bay to most of our guests, it may be the preferred option if you prioritize having the widest range of cruise options or if you have specific preferences that can only be met in Halong Bay. Additionally, if crossing Halong Bay off your bucket list is a priority, it may be the ideal choice.

1 Day, 2 Days or 3 Days

When deciding on the duration of your bay cruise, there are several factors to consider.

A one-day boat tour can provide a good impression of the bay’s stunning beauty and highlights. However, it’s important to note that the journey from Hanoi to the harbor alone takes approximately 2.5 hours, resulting in a total of 5 hours spent on transportation in a single day.

Opting for a two-day, one-night cruise offers a more relaxed experience and the opportunity to spend a night aboard a cruise ship, providing a refreshing change from hotel accommodations. With the extended duration, the cruise can venture further into the bay, allowing you to explore more scenic spots and participate in additional activities.

A three-day, two-night cruise is recommended for those seeking a more leisurely experience. While the additional day may not introduce significantly different sights compared to the two-day option, it allows you to unwind, soak in the stunning surroundings, and truly enjoy the tranquility of the bay. Some cruises may even offer the option to spend the second night on an island within the bay, such as the well-known Cat Ba Island, or smaller islands with accommodations, adding a unique twist to the experience.

Cat Ba Island alternative

For travelers who prefer an alternative to a traditional bay cruise due to concerns like motion sickness or a desire for more flexibility, Cat Ba Island serves as an excellent choice.

One of the primary advantages of visiting Cat Ba Island is the opportunity for exploration and outdoor activities. The island boasts a national park, making it ideal for adventurous treks through its lush forests and scenic trails and you can find the Canon Fort with panoramic views of the surrounding bays. Additionally, cycling enthusiasts can pedal through the island’s charming landscapes, while visiting a local village provides an authentic glimpse into the local way of life.

Opting for Cat Ba Island also grants a level of freedom and flexibility. Unlike a fixed cruise itinerary, you can plan your activities according to your preferences. You have the option to rent a kayak and explore the bay at your own pace or enjoy hikes through the island’s natural beauty.

It’s important to note that while Cat Ba Island offers a range of land-based activities, if your intention is to truly witness the sights of the bay, a boat excursion remains the best option. Fortunately, there are boat tours available that depart directly from Cat Ba Island, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the bays without an extended cruise journey.

Halong Bay: Best cruises

Without giving you a list of dozens of different Halong Bay cruises, we have selected the best cruises based on our experience and experiences of our guests. Do you want to see all the choices? View all options here: Halong Bay cruises

Best 1 day trip

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Best mid range cruise

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Lotus Mekong Delta Cruise
Best high end cruise

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Lan Ha Bay: Best cruises

We’ve selected the best Lan Ha Bay cruises based on our expertise and guest feedback. Explore all options here: Lan Ha Bay Cruises.

Best 1 day trip

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Best mid range cruise

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Lotus Mekong Delta Cruise
Best high end cruise

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Bai Tu Long Bay: Best cruises

Discover the best Bai Tu Long Bay cruises chosen by our experts and guests. Explore all options here: Bai Tu Long Bay Cruises.

Best 1 day trip

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Best mid range cruise

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Lotus Mekong Delta Cruise
Best high end cruise

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Cat Ba: Best island tours

Explore the finest Cat Ba tours handpicked by our experts and guests. Discover all options here: Cat Ba Tours.

Ninh Binh combination cruise

For travelers who wish to visit Ninh Binh without the hassle of traveling all the way back to Hanoi after their bay cruise, we provide an excellent combination trip, seamlessly connecting both destinations. 

Ask for recommendations

Feeling unsure about which bay or cruise is the best fit for you? Don’t worry! Our team of experts is here to help. Contact us today for personalized advice and recommendations tailored to your preferences and interests. We’ll ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision and create an unforgettable experience in the stunning bays of Vietnam.

FAQ about cruises in Halong Bay, Lan Ha Bay & Bai Tu Long Bay

For those seeking a serene and secluded experience with fewer travelers and cruise boats, we highly recommend Bai Tu Long Bay. Alternatively, if you’re looking for adventure and an array of activities such as cycling, trekking, and excellent kayaking spots, Lan Ha Bay is the ideal choice. See the full bay comparison here.

Apart from the variation in size, with Halong Bay being the largest, all three bays offer strikingly similar natural landscapes and a wide range of activities to enjoy. Lan Ha Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay tend to be less crowded with tourists, and Lan Ha Bay provides the added advantage of easy access to Cat Ba Island.

A 1-day tour to Halong Bay can be a worthwhile experience if you have limited time and want to get a glimpse of the stunning scenery and iconic karst formations. It allows you to visit some of the highlights and provides a good impression of the beauty of the bay. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the journey from Hanoi to the harbor can take around 2.5 hours each way, which means a significant portion of the day will be spent on transportation. If you’re seeking a more immersive and relaxed experience, consider opting for a longer cruise duration.

The choice between a 1-night 2-day cruise and a 2-night 3-day cruise depends on your preferences and the level of relaxation you desire. A 1-night 2-day cruise provides sufficient time to explore the stunning scenery and engage in enjoyable activities. However, if you’re looking for a more leisurely experience with ample time to relax and unwind, a 2-night 3-day cruise would be preferable. While it may not offer significantly different scenery, it allows you to have more time to  fully enjoy the serene atmosphere of the bay.

Activities in a cruise itinerary are not mandatory to join. You can just relax on the deck instead and enjoy the views.

All activities mentioned in the cruise itinerary, such as kayaking, cooking classes, and tai-chi sessions, are typically included in the package without any hidden fees. Additionally, all the meals mentioned are also part of the package, except for drinks which may incur additional charges.

However, it’s important to carefully review the cruise itinerary to ensure you have a clear understanding of what is included. If there are any optional activities or services, such as onboard spas, that are not covered by the package, it will be specified in the itinerary. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the transportation between Hanoi and the port is often not included in the cruise package, so you may need to arrange and cover the transportation costs separately.

Due to the presence of islands and cliffs, the water in Halong Bay tends to remain relatively calm, without significant waves. As a result, it is generally not common to experience seasickness while cruising in Halong Bay. Most cruise boats also anchor in sheltered areas for overnight stays.

However, it’s important to note that during storms or adverse weather conditions, there can be increased wave activity which may lead to a slightly rougher sea. In such cases, cruise operators prioritize passenger safety and may choose to cancel or modify the cruise itinerary.

There are alternative menus to suit your dining needs. If you have any dietary restrictions, please let us know so that we can properly prepare for you in advance.

It is recommended to bring the following: sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, insect repellents, swimsuit (in summer) or warm clothes (in winter), original passport and your camera to capture your unforgettable time in Halong Bay. If your itinerary includes a visit to Cat Ba, it’s a good idea to bring good walking shoes.

Tips: You can also bring some candy, cake, books for your children.

It’s not a problem to bring all your stuff, but it may be easier to only bring what you need. If you stay in the same hotel before and after the cruise, we recommend that you leave your large suitcase at the hotel, as you will only be traveling to Halong Bay for 2 or 3 days. All hotels in Hanoi offer this luggage storage service free of charge.

If you have to go directly to the airport or train station after the cruise, you can take your entire luggage with you.

Most cruise operators allow you to bring a reasonable amount of luggage that can fit comfortably in the cabin. However, it is advisable to bring a small to medium-sized suitcase or backpack that is easy to manage and doesn’t take up excessive space in your cabin.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that some cruises may have limited storage space on board, so it’s best to avoid bringing bulky or oversized luggage. If you have larger items or excess luggage, you may need to make arrangements for storage at the cruise departure point or your accommodation in Hanoi.

To travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay, there are several transportation options available. The most common and convenient way is to take a bus provided by the cruise operator, which often includes transfer services from Hanoi Old Quarter directly to the harbor. However, it’s important to note that some cruises may charge an additional fee for the bus transfer, while others may include it in the package.

Alternatively, you can choose to book a comfortable limousine van or arrange for a private transfer to Halong Bay.

Read here a more detailed guide for traveling from Hanoi to Halong Bay.

To travel from Ninh Binh to Halong Bay or vice versa, the most convenient option is to arrange a bus transfer. While most cruises start from Hanoi, it is possible to find bus services that connect Ninh Binh directly to Halong Bay. The journey typically takes around 3 hours, depending on traffic conditions.

If you’re looking to explore both destinations, you may consider our combined tour that includes visits to both Halong Bay or Lan Ha Bay and Ninh Binh. 

To travel from Sapa to Halong Bay, the most common route is to first make your way to Hanoi. From Sapa, you have several transportation options to reach Hanoi, including buses, cars, or sleeper trains.

Once you arrive in Hanoi, you can then proceed to Halong Bay, which is approximately 170 kilometers away. Most cruises and tour operators in Halong Bay offer transportation services from Hanoi to the bay. You can choose between shared buses or private transfers, depending on your preferences and budget.

Most buses traveling between Hanoi and Halong Bay typically make one stop along the way. The exact stops can vary depending on the bus company and the route they take. Some common stops include rest stops with restroom facilities, food options, and convenience stores where you can stretch your legs, grab a snack, or use the facilities.

When booking a cruise with us, arranging private transfers to or from Halong Bay is convenient and customizable. You can simply indicate your preference for a private transfer, and we will tailor the arrangements to your specific needs. Our private transfers typically include direct pick-up from your hotel in Hanoi or any other location, including Ninh Binh.

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